The city's Historic Landmarks Commission has voted to delay a decision about changing downtown's "Made in Oregon" sign to say "University of Oregon" until early April.
The vote to table the controversial redesign took place on Monday, March 9, after months of review and a two-hour meeting, essentially sending the University of Oregon back to the drawing board to tweak the sign's text to meet historic design requirements.
Legally, the city has no say in what the sign should say: The neon phrase emblazoned beneath the leaping stag is protected as free speech under the Oregon Constitution. But the landmarks commission can rule on whether the font used for the phrase keeps with the sign's historic character. The group asked the university to return on April 6 with a sign composed of smaller, "more 1950s" style letters, so that they fit with the "historic" designation of the sign.
Nevertheless, City Planner Mark Walhood says he received over 300 emails from citizens concerned about changing the sign's slogan, 4-1 in opposition to the new phrase.
Darryl Paulsen, whose company Ramsay Signs has owned and maintained the "Made in Oregon" sign since it was first built as an ad for White Satin Sugar in the 1940s, says the landmark will go dark if he cannot find someone to pay the tens of thousands of dollars a year it costs to maintain the 52-foot tall neon icon. The University of Oregon has paid upkeep costs since last January.
But another option might also be on the table. In December, City Commissioner Randy Leonard wrote a letter to the University of Oregon, cautioning that the controversy over the sign change could "overshadow" the university's positive relationship with Portland. Leonard offered to negotiate some way for the city to purchase the beloved landmark.
Leonard's chief of staff, Ty Kovatch, estimates that buying the sign would cost $500,000, but says the steep pricetag is worth it to keep the landmark unchanged.